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Claims professionals said Tuesday they are having trouble assessing the damage in the storm-ravaged Houston area as rain and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Harvey made travel difficult.
“The massive amount of flooding and the widespread devastation of the amount of water is making it very difficult for anyone to get anywhere at the moment,” said John Hinz, Houston-based vice president, catastrophe operations with Vericlaim Inc., a unit of Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. “Nothing’s moving very fast as far as to assist people."
Harvey, the first hurricane to hit Texas since Ike in 2008, made landfall in on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds of about 130 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles from the center and tropical storm-force extended 140 miles from the center. The storm surge was estimated at six to 12 feet.
“I’ve been an adjustor since 1986 and I’ve been in Houston for 23 years,” Mr. Hinz said, “so I’ve seen a lot of different catastrophes. This will be the largest flood event that’s ever hit Houston.”
Harvey weakened to a Category 1 by 5 a.m. Saturday morning and was downgraded to a tropical storm with sustained winds of 70 mph at 1 p.m. later that day, according to the National Hurricane Center.
On Tuesday, the center warned that “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding continues in southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.”
“We have devastating damage from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana border,” Mr. Hinz said. “So, it wasn’t just your normal hurricane that comes on shore and then dissipates in 48 hours and the sun comes out and its gone. We’re now into our 5th day and there could be an additional of, anywhere from 6 to 12 to 15 inches of rain.”
Vernon Duty, Atlanta-based account manager for Belfor Property Restoration, who is on the ground in Texas, said “the scope of the disaster is extremely large and it’s very dynamic.”
“Neighborhoods are affected on a regular basis as the flooding changes and the storm dumps more rain in certain places,” he said. “One of our great challenges has been getting to things to assess and look at because the roads are so unpredictable and, in many cases impassible because of water.”
Mr. Duty, who arrived in Texas on Sunday, said he had walked through a client’s multi-building campus to survey the damage.
“We were on the second floor looking down to the first floor which had significant flooding,” he said. “The water still hadn’t gone down.”
Looking ahead, Mr. Duty said “I’m sure we'll be working a year from now doing the rebuilding projects.”
“I think a lot of the emergency services will be taken care of in 30 or 60 days,” he said. “But then there’ll be a much more significant and long-lasting rebuild phase.”
Ken Tolson, CEO, U.S. property & casualty, at Crawford & Co., said in an email that initial reports pointed out that Houston alone is responsible for up to one quarter of oil production and more than 10% of the country’s refining capacity.
"Crawford is advising commercial clients to keep in close contact with risk management teams across both upstream and downstream supply chain partners," he said. "It's really too early to assess, but clearly there will be a lot of flood claims, as well as damage caused by wind and falling debris. There could be major damage to infrastructure that will be critical to rebuilding the city and restoring communities."
Insured losses resulting from Tropical Storm Harvey’s winds and storm surge in Texas will range from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion, not including the impact of ongoing rain and potentially record flooding from Harvey’s unprecedented precipitation, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, a Verisk Analytics Inc. business.